In recent years, electronic payments have grown in popularity along with the demise of the cheque and fewer consumers carrying cash in their wallet or purse. Card payments have become the preferred method for payments, with shoppers expecting small businesses to accept debit and credit card transactions in a physical (ie offline) environment. The need for secure online payments has also grown as more merchants look to ecommerce services in a bid to drive sales.
E-commerce is becoming more accessible and affordable for even the smallest businesses, and complete end-to-end solutions for web design, shopping carts, online security and even virtual terminals are available in this increasingly sophisticated marketplace.
Fixed or mobile chip and PIN acceptance is ideal for physical trading environments, such as retail, hairdressing, accounting, hospitality and other business that processes transactions. For tradesmen on the move there is a whole host of new innovative mobile related payment technologies that are rivalling cash.
Methods range from devices that attach to a mobile phone and are capable of accepting card payments, to the digital mobile wallet and a portable chip and PIN device that runs off GPRS. All of which allow companies and sole traders to receive payment for goods and services on the spot.
When selecting a payments provider, merchants should consider options other than their bank. An independent supplier is more likely to offer a cost effective solution, along with support and benefits. What businesses need to consider is what method would best suit their customer base. And what methods is their customer base familiar with and happy to use.
Innovative digital payment options are great when it comes to the younger tech savvy customer, but merchants must also consider more mature shoppers. Overall security and industry requirements are a top priority and must be thought about when deciding on a digital payment method.
When selecting a payment option, SMEs should work with a third party that can provide not only the technology – online or physical – but guidance and a transparency of capital costs and fees, both monthly and annual. What many small business may not realise is that there are other options available to merchants that are more beneficial than simply using their personal bank.
Whichever payment method is selected, if an SME trades in both a physical and online environment, by joining up their payment offering they can gain an overall picture of transactions and the customer, which provides valuable insight for business decisions and strategy planning.
Blog supplied by Gareth Poppleton, managing director at Retail Merchant Services.
If you’re a fledgling entrepreneur, starting your own business will be one of the most daunting things you’ll ever do. Whether it’s burning ambition, necessity or the fact that entrepreneurship is hardwired into your DNA, being one of the brave that takes this leap will be life-changing.
Being a new kid on the block can be overwhelming and you will meet people who will want to give you their advice. Picking your way through what’s good and what’s not is no mean feat, so Phil Sharpe, mentor at the University of Southampton Science Park Catalyst Centre, has identified four common characteristics successful businesses share.
In a new business, it all comes down to the people and particularly the leader. To run a successful team, a leader needs to be creative, logical, passionate and able to be compelling and articulate. However, you also need to recognise that you can’t do everything on your own, so you must get the right people around you.
Make sure you’ve looked at your business from every angle and worked out what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s good to ask others and take on board their criticisms. A lot of people who are naturally passionate about their start-up seem to take criticism too personally, but actually it can be really powerful stuff. Just by recognising that somebody else has a different angle on your business – an angle you could never have because you haven’t got the same experience of life – could be vital. It’s important to turn negative criticism around and use it to your advantage.
You can make your own luck – and there’s a risk that you fail to spot it when it presents itself. So, being aware of opportunities worth taking is certainly part of starting out. Randy Komisar [venture capitalist and lecturer on entrepreneurship at Stanford University] has written a great book on being a successful start-up. He talks about how the basics of business have been written 100 times – the business plan, the value proposition, etc – but he thinks that all this is only about 30% of business. The other 70% is luck.
If you think you can put something off until tomorrow that can be done today – don’t even think about starting a business. To run a thriving start up, you must be able to persevere against adversity, because you’re going to get a lot of that. According to Alex Rovira and Fernando Trias de Bes, authors of Good Luck: Create the Conditions for Success in Life & Business: “Creators of good luck don’t give up or postpone. When a problem or situation arises, they act immediately to either solve it without delay, delegate or forget about it.”
The transition from being an independent freelancer to a business owner is a process of shifting responsibilities and needs. For me, moving from freelance copywriter to founder and MD of my own copywriting agency has been one of moving from one set of challenges to the next – and developing processes or recruiting people to meet those challenges.
As the business has grown we’ve increasingly moved from being reactive to proactive, and that has been crucial in ensuring the continuing success of the agency. I’d like to share with you seven proactive steps you need to take to move your business to the next level. Many of these are true not just for freelance copywriters moving into agency territory, but anyone making the shift from self-employed individual to business owner and boss.
To give clients the sense they’re dealing with a bona fide business rather than an individual, you need to market your business as such. Outline the core values of your business and shift from using ‘I’ in your promotional copy to ‘we’. Consciously create a brand image that leverages the strengths of your agency and sets it apart from the rest.
Once you’ve got staff, use them. There are only so many hours in the day, so to grow your business and focus on areas such as marketing, entrust certain activities to others. Once I’d taken on other copywriters, I found I spent most of my time being an editor. Later, I went on to recruit one of my senior writers to work full time as an editor, freeing me up work on expanding the business and developing processes to increase efficiency.
As a lone freelance writer you can weather the lulls and cut back on the groceries till that big client finally pays up. But if you’re employing other people (or even sub-contracting to other freelancers) you must have a much better handle on your cashflow. Nobody works just for praise and promises, and if you can’t afford to pay them, you may find that your business suddenly contracts again.
Continued business growth requires an investment of time and money in marketing. You also need to develop a cohesive marketing strategy that will exploit your business strengths and conform to current market conditions. If you fail to market sufficiently or effectively, you may find you’ve got an excess of manpower and a shortage of work.
To produce a consistent product, you need to have processes that ensure quality. This extends to everything from gauging client requirements and expectations to briefing writers, invoicing clients and dealing with problems that arise. Remember, delegating will give you the time to develop these processes.
One of the key transitions from freelancer to business owner is to redefine your offering. Where once we focussed solely on providing writing and editing services, now we offer PR, consultation and training. The larger your business grows, the greater the possibilities.
As a freelancer you are in direct control of the quality of your output. As a business owner your staff now play a crucial role in maintaining that quality. Effective recruitment and training policies will go a long way keeping standards high. Your staff are now one of you key assets. Look after them!
Blog supplied by Derryck Strachan, MD of content marketing and copywriting agency Big Star Copywriting.
A recent survey carried out by business software provider Exact suggests that more than a third of the UK’s 4.9m SMEs don't have a business plan and “they could be missing out on an extra 20% of profit as a result”.
Of the 34% of respondents who didn’t have a business plan, 68% said they didn't see the need for one, while 23% were "too busy" to prepare one, 8% “didn't have anyone to help them” and 5% “weren't comfortable with numbers”. Should we be surprised by these findings and are business plans as key as some start-up experts would have you believe?
In fact, some experts would tell you that start-up business plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Last year, author Paul B Brown wrote a piece for Forbes.com called Why Business Plans Are A Waste Of Time. He’d come up with the idea for a new book that sought to offer insight from the original business plans of highly successful US entrepreneurs.
But there was a problem. As Brown explains: “Most of the business plans had nothing to do with what the businesses eventually became. People who said they were going to specialize in developing new computer hardware ended up in software, for example. In a surprisingly high number of cases, what was in the business plan ended up having very little to do with what the company ultimately became.”
After writing about entrepreneurs for more than 30 years, Brown believes that creating a “painfully detailed business plan really doesn’t make much sense. The first time you encounter something you didn’t expect, the plan goes out the window. Things never go exactly the way you anticipate.”
A few years ago, (“former banker, small-business investor and veteran entrepreneur”) Kate Lister wrote a piece for Entrepreneur.com called Myth of the Business Plan. She highlighted research from Babson College (“regarded as having one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country”), which found “no statistical correlation between a startup's ultimate revenue or net income and the supposedly requisite written business plan”.
The study found that: “"Some of the heroes of today's would-be entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell, did not have business plans when they embarked on ventures that changed the world”.
Lister said she was “all for having a business plan in the verb sense. I'm just not a big believer in the noun form”. She continued: “Writing a formal business plan invites the paralysis of analysis. It distracts the entrepreneur from slaying dragons and thinking big thoughts. And it's largely a waste of time. The result usually is a long-winded missive that's out of date almost the moment the ink dries. Great business plans may earn you an A in business school, but in real life you only get A’s for achievement. So stop dotting your i’s and crossing your t's and go out there and slay something.”
Andy Fox is the founder of “award-winning independent car service and repair specialist” iAutoUK. Recently, he wrote an article for the Huffington Post called “Why You Don't Need a 40-Page Business Plan to Launch a Successful Company” (sic).
“I've never had a business plan,” he admits. “Despite this, in three years my company has reached a turnover of over £1m, with £100,000 annual profits. For your business to thrive you instead need a 'Success Plan'. This is an evolving strategy consisting of three elements. No 40-page business plan needed. In fact, you can write a Success Plan on one sheet of A4.
“Firstly, you must understand your market place and how your business is distinct from competitors. Secondly, the Success Plan must have 'Leader’s Objectives' and you must communicate them to your staff. The final element is to make sure you make money! You must have a system that provides you with daily earnings information, and which can monitor cash in the bank and in the pipeline.
“Such a Success Plan is a short, relevant, real-world document. I believe a Success Plan is more appropriate than a traditional business plan.” Dryly he adds: “Look at companies such as Comet, Blockbusters and Jessops. I'm sure their business plans didn't include going into administration! Had they had a Success Plan, perhaps their futures may have been different.”
Beliefs drive reality and they are intrinsically linked to our values – the things that are most important to us. What you believe to be true you make right by finding evidence to support it.
So, if you believe that your target market is struggling at the moment and has no money to spend on your product, you’ll easily be able to prove that to be correct. And yet if you were to say to yourself that your target market is making more focused buying decisions, you’ll take a different approach to your next sales or marketing conversation. Whatever is true doesn’t really matter. It’s the attitude and energy you take to it that will make the difference.
“If you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
Thank heavens our brains are wired to filter information according to relevance. Without that filtering we’d have more than two billion bits of information flying at us at any given second. How paralysing would that be?
Because of this filtering, we’re wired to focus on what we decide is important – our values. This focus drives behaviour and therefore business results. So, what we believe – and then say to ourselves is the truth – can mean that we don’t see evidence to the contrary. This can act as a positive or a negative, depending on what your beliefs are.
To make sure you are doing all that you can in this area to create success, begin to notice whether your beliefs are acting as ‘cheerleaders’ or ‘critics’ by considering these questions:
“What are the beliefs that you are running in terms of your customers, your product, your team or the market in general?” Grab some paper, make a list and then ask yourself…
“Are these beliefs building strong foundations and motivating me and my team to grow the business or are they looking for flaws and reasons that things go wrong?”
Whatever your beliefs are you have choice. You can make a change. Change your thinking and change your reality.
It’s natural to see your competitors as the enemy. In reality, though, they’re not (ignorance and blindness-to-change are what you should really be watching out for). At Cartridgesave.co.uk, we’ve found that building relationships with our competitors has been invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing, while being fun, too. Here are the top five things we’ve learnt along the way.
Each business has very few real competitors. Operating in the same market as another business does not automatically make you rivals, because it's rare that you will ‘play’ in exactly the same space, targeting the same demographics with the same model, products and/or strategy.
Furthermore, it’s unlikely you’d disclose a secret that will unlock the key to your kingdom, even after one drink too many. This is because it’s not that easy to copy a business. Even when imitators try to rip off your business model, they’ll often copy the wrong thing, because they are not privy to your informed thought process.
Once you’ve pushed these two assumed ‘cons’ to the side, you can embrace the ‘pro’, which is, by creating relationships with businesses similar to yours, you develop a network of contacts you can speak to when you need to talk through issues affecting you both.
Social media channels LinkedIn and Twitter provide great ways to test the water. You can’t guarantee that your approach will get a good reception, but they allow your recipient the opportunity to politely decline without either of you losing face.
However, you need to be clear on what you’re trying to achieve when you first approach a competitor (usually just a chat/social in our case). A few years ago, on our first ever meeting with a competitor, the owner had misunderstood our intention and thought we wanted to acquire his business. Needless to say, that was a mistake we haven’t made since.
Industry-relevant exhibitions provide a great backdrop for meetings. You’re both there already, so the pressure is off and no one has had to make a special journey. Plus, you’ll both have a packed itinerary, so grabbing a quick coffee between other appointments will keep things nice and informal.
Organisers release delegate lists in advance, so you can scour these to get an idea of who is going. Then all you need to do is drop them a quick ‘be good to meet up’ line via LinkedIn.
Over the course of your business life, you’ll meet a number of like-minded entrepreneurs who you’ll not only respect, but also get on well with. Make sure you keep in touch. Not only will they make great company when you fancy a drink after work, but they may become invaluable at key times.
Keep these meet-ups casual. On most occasions you’ll find yourselves sharing the gossip over a drink. But you’ll find these contacts important sounding boards for problems, lead-generation, knowledge sharing and even mentorship over time. For example, at The Sunday Times Fast Track event, we met an MD whose business (on the surface) had little relevance to ours, until we got chatting and discovered he ran a massive call centre. His advice, over the course of that night and a few subsequent meetings, has really influenced and improved our customer service provision.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your contacts for help. We’ve found that people are flattered when called on for advice. The key is making sure you have a relationship in place before you make the call. It’s for this reason you need to grow your networks with people who can offer informed advice that is relevant and based on their own experience.
Blog supplied by Cartridgesave.co.uk